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New NAACP President says his strength is among the grassroots

Cornell William Brooks

Cornell William Brooks

By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney Newswire

Underscoring the fact the NAACP has been a grassroots organization for its 105 years of existence, new NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, last week, said that has been and will continue to be his strength.

“The NAACP, as a matter of history, tradition, culture, political effectiveness and advocacy, is a grassroots organization,” said Brooks. The power and the promise and potential of the NAACP lie, not at the headquarters in Baltimore, but at the branches and state conferences. It is there that I have quite a bit of experience in terms of state level advocacy.”

The NAACP National Board of Directors announced its selection of Brooks, an attorney and social justice advocate, on May 17. He is the eighteenth chief executive leader of the national headquarters, replacing interim leader Lorraine Miller, who served as interim president since Benjamin Todd Jealous ended his five-year tenure late last year. Brooks will be formally introduced to NAACP members in July during its annual convention in Las Vegas.

“We are proud to welcome attorney Cornell William Brooks as our new president and CEO,” said Roslyn M. Brock, NAACP board chair. “Mr. Brooks is a pioneering lawyer and civil rights leader, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the association. We look forward to leveraging his legal prowess, vision and leadership as we tackle the pressing civil rights issues of the 21st century.”

Brooks, 53, is currently president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, based in Newark, N.J. He points to his work with this urban research and advocacy organization as being among the places where he cut his teeth in grassroots advocacy.

He described working with mayors and council people to cast a model for countrywide legislation, specifically citing  his work on policies affecting people who have served time in prison, but who desire to drop their descriptions of ex-offenders in order to become “taxpayers, homeowners, mothers, fathers and responsible members of this community and this republic.

“That’s where I cut my teeth — at the state level, helping to secure state level legislation to help address the foreclosure crisis in the state of New Jersey,” he said.

Brooks said although he has done most of his work at the state level and local level, he is also “more than well-equipped” to do the significant federal, legislative and judicial work that is required by the NAACP.

“I started off my career at the Federal Communications Commission, at the Justice Department, at the national Lawyers’ Committee (for Civil Rights under Law). Having spent 20 years in civil rights and social justice advocacy, (I am) well aware of the issues around income inequality around the juvenile and criminal justice system, and work force development.”

These are among what the NAACP often calls its “bread and butter” issues. Brooks notes he started his career as a federal litigator in Texas, Florida and Ohio on behalf of the U. S. Department of Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee. “So, I certainly have an appreciation for the national landscape in terms of civil rights litigation. But, where I have done most of my work is in the very place where most of the work of the NAACP has been done. That is at the state level and the local level.”

Brooks said he would immediately start talking to and listening to the NAACP’s membership and board as he forms a vision for the organization’s future.

“The NAACP has put together a very thoughtful strategic plan in terms of game changers for all Americans and civil rights” that Brooks said he will study as he prepares to lead. Those game changer issues include economic sustainability, education, health, public safety/criminal justice and voting rights/political representation.

The announcement of Brooks’ appointment came as the nation celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U. S. Supreme Court. That was the landmark decision that outlawed legal segregation in public schools. Brooks says that decision is a threshold for him.

“As a graduate of both Head Start and Yale Law School, I am a beneficiary, an heir and a grandson of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, whose 60th anniversary we just noted. And as such I am indebted to the legacy of the NAACP.”

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